Today (9th February 2015) marks one month since public protests began against the latest increase in public transport fares in São Paulo, Brazil. Thousands of people have participated in the protests, which have been taking place every week, organised by the Free Fare Movement. There have been further protests in other cities that also saw an increase in fares.
In June 2013, one of the reasons for the wave of protests that took place across dozens of Brazilian cities was the issue of police violence in demonstrations. Unfortunately, in the current round of protests, police violence remains a huge problem.
Even before the protests began this year, the commander of São Paulo police had already announced that the forces would use a technique called “enveloping”, which means that the protest would be surrounded by police. This was seen by civil society as a restriction on the right to public demonstrations.
In the first protest, held on January 9, police made excessive and disproportionate use of force under the pretext of controlling a group of protesters. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used indiscriminately and, above all, irresponsibly, creating great risks for the more than 15,000 people who participated in the protest. The action can be seen in this video.
Similar violations were observed in the protests which followed. In the one which occurred on January 27, the police released tear gas in a subway station — a closed site and completely inappropriate for the use of this kind of less-lethal weapon — spreading panic among passersby.
Apart from demonstrators, journalists have once again been a target of deliberate police attacks. According to records, at least one journalist was hit with a baton, while another was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet, as can be seen at the end of this video.
The ongoing violations only reinforce the requests of civil society for the introduction of a “use of force in demonstrations” protocol by police. Regrettably, the police refuse to do this.
It is expected that the protests against the raising of public transportation fares in São Paulo and other cities will continue for a while. We hope, however, what will end are the violations committed by police, as this will enable people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and protest.